Showcase Presents Batgirl volume 1

By Gardner Fox, Cary Bates, Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil, Elliot S. Maggin,Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Frank Springer, Mike Sekowsky, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Win Mortimer, Irv Novick, Don Heck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1367-1 (TPB)

Today comics readers are pretty used to the vast battalion of Bat-shaped champions infesting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce, Dick, Alfred – and occasionally their borrowed dog Ace – keeping crime on the run. However, in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956 and three months before the debut of the Flashofficially ushered in the Silver Age of American comicbooks) the editorial powers-that-be introduced heiress Kathy Kane, who sporadically suited-up in chiropteran red-&-yellow for the next eight years.

In Batman #139 (April 1961) her niece Betty started dressing up and acting out as her assistant Batgirl, but when Editor Julie Schwartz took over the Bat-titles in 1964 both ladies unceremoniously disappeared in his root-and-branch overhaul.

In 1966 the Batman TV series took over the planet, but its second season was far less popular and the producers soon saw the commercial sense of adding a glamorous female fighter in the fresh, new tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., especially when clad in a cute cape, shiny skin-tight body-stocking and go-go boots…

Of course, she had to join the comics cast too, and this Showcase edition re-presents her varied appearances as both guest-star and headliner in her own series, beginning with her four-colour premiere. Hopefully, with the Batwoman TV show now inspiring a new generation of screen-based fans, it won’t be long before the material in this tantalising monochrome tome will be rereleased in in new – full-colour – print and digital editions…

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme o Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced young Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the Police Commissioner, so by the time the third season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

In her small screen premiere she pummelled the Penguin, but Batgirl’s comic book origin featured the no-less-ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever, fast-paced yarn involving blackmail and murder that still stands up today and which opens in fine style this massive compilation of the early years of one of the most successful distaff spin-offs in the business.

Her appearances came thick and fast after that initial tale: ‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox, Infantino & Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as she was challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down enigmatic criminal genius Mr. Brains. Next, BG teamed-up with the Girl of Steel in World’s Finest Comics #169 (September 1967) wherein the independent lasses seemingly worked to replace Batman and Superman in ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Cary Bates, Curt Swan & George Klein.

Detective #369 (Infantino and Greene) somewhat reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ which segued directly into a classic confrontation in Batman #197 as ‘Catwoman sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for a classic cover of Batgirl and whip-wielding Catwoman squaring off over Batman’s prone body – proving that comic fans have a psychopathology uniquely their very own…

Gil Kane made his debut on the Dominoed Daredoll (did they really call her that? – yes they did, from page 2 onwards!) in Detective #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’: a masterpiece of comic-art dynamism that inker Sid Greene could be proud of, but which proffered some rather uncomfortable assertions about female vanity that Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget – and just check out the cover of this book if you think I’m kidding.

Batgirl next surfaced in Justice League of America #60 (February 1968), wherein the team barely survive a return match with alien invader Queen Bee and are temporarily transformed into ‘Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen!’ (Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene), after which in the June-July The Brave and the Bold (#78) Bob Brown stepped in to draw her for Bob Haney’s eccentric crime-thriller ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman vied with the fresh young thing for Batman’s affections. Of course, it was all a cunning plan… at first…

That same month another team-up with Supergirl heralded a sea-change in DC’s tone, style and content as the girls were dragged into ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (World’s Finest Comics #176) with Bates providing a far darker mystery for the girls and boys (including Robin and Jimmy Olsen) to solve. With this yarn artists Neal Adams & Dick Giordano began revolutionising how comics looked with their moody, exciting hyper-realistic renderings…

Although Barbara Gordon continued to crop up in the background of occasional Batman adventures, that was the last time the masked heroine was seen until Detective Comics #384, (February 1969) when Batgirl was finally awarded her own solo feature. Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by the phenomenal team of Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson, ‘Tall, Dark. Handsome …and Missing!’ began an engaging run of human-scaled crime dramas with what all the (male) scripters clearly believed was a strong female slant, as seen in this yarn wherein librarian Babs develops a crush on a frequent borrower just before he inexplicably vanishes.

Batgirl investigates and runs into a pack of brutal thugs before solving the mystery in the second chapter ‘Hunt for the Helpless Hostage!’ (Detective #385), after which the lead story from that issue rather inexplicably follows here.

‘Die Small… Die Big!’ by Robert Kanigher, Bob Brown & Joe Giella is one of the best Batman adventures of the period, with a nameless nonentity sacrificing everything for a man he’s never met, but Babs is only in three panels and never as Batgirl…

Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969) made far better use of her as she goes undercover and is largely at odds with the Maid of Steel whilst exposing ‘The Supergirl Gang’ in a tense thriller by Bates & Win Mortimer. Batgirl shared alternating adventures in Detective back-up slot with Robin, so she next appeared in#388 which also welcomed newspaper strip star Frank Robbins to script ‘Surprise! This’ll Kill You!’: a sophisticated bait-and-switch caper which sees Batgirl impersonate herself and almost pay with her life for another girl’s crimes. Spectacularly illustrated by Kane & Anderson, the strip expanded from eight to ten pages, but that still wasn’t enough and the breathtaking thrills spill over into a dramatic conclusion in ‘Batgirl’s Bag of Tricks!

Although tone and times were changing, there was still potential to be daft and parochial too, as seen in ‘Batman’s Marriage Trap!’ (Batman #214, by Robbins, Irv Novick & Giella) wherein a wicked Femme Fatale sets the unfulfilled spinsters of America on the trail of Gotham’s Most Eligible Bat-chelor (see what I did there? I’ve done it before too and you can’t stop me…).

Not even a singular guest-shot by positive role-model Batgirl can redeem this peculiar throwback – although the art rather does…

From Detective #392, October 1969 and by Robbins, Kane & Anderson, ‘A Clue… Seven-Foot Tall!’ is another savvy contemporary crime-saga which introduces a new Bat cast-member in the form of disabled Vietnam veteran and neophyte private eye Jason Bard (who would eventually inherit Batgirl’s spot in Detective Comics). Here and in the concluding ‘Downfall of a Goliath’ Babs and Bard spar before joining forces to solve a brutal murder in the world of professional basketball.

Issues #396 & 397 (February and March 1970) see Batgirl face the very modern menace of what we’d now call a psychosexual serial killer in chilling, enthralling mystery ‘The Orchid-Crusher’ and ‘The Hollow Man’: a clear proof of the second-string character’s true and still untapped potential…

The anniversary Detective #400 (June 1970) finally teamed her with Robin in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Vince Colletta) a college-based murder mystery referencing political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still finds space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before its chillingly satisfactory conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ (Detective #401).

With issue #404, Babs became the sole back-up star as Robbins, Kane & Frank Giacoia sampled the underground movie scene with ‘Midnight Doom-Boy’, mischievously spoofing Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory studio in another intriguing murder-plot, diverting to and culminating in another branch of Pop Art as Batgirl nearly becomes ‘The Living Statue!’

In ‘The Explosive Circle!’ (#406, with Colletta inking) the topic du jour is gentrification, as property speculation rips Gotham apart, but not as much as a gang of radical bombers, leading to the cry ‘One of Our Landmarks is Missing!’ The next issue (#408) saw the vastly underrated Don Heck take over as artist, inked here by Dick Giordano on ‘The Phantom Bullfighter!’ wherein a work-trip to Madrid embroils Batgirl in a contentious dispute between matadors old and new, leading to a murderous ‘Night of the Sharp Horns!’

Inevitably, fashion reared its stylish head in a strip with a female lead, but Robbins’ wickedly clever ‘Battle of the Three “M’s”’ (that’s Mini, Midi and Maxi to you) proved to be one of the most compelling and clever tales of the entire run as a trendsetting celebrity finds herself targeted by an unscrupulous designer, leading to a murderous deathtrap for Babs in ‘Cut… and Run!’

Clearly inspired, Robbins stayed with girlish things for ‘The Head-Splitters!’ (Detective #412) and Heck, now inking himself, rose to the occasion for a truly creepy saga about hairdressing that features one of the nastiest scams and murder methods I’ve ever seen, ending in a climactic ‘Squeeze-Play!’

Babs reunites with Jason Bard for an anniversary date only to stumble onto an ‘Invitation to Murder!’ (another celebrity homage; this time to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) – a classy fair-play mystery resolved in ‘Death Shares the Spotlight!’

When a cop-killing tears apart the city, Babs’ father Commissioner Jim Gordon takes it badly in ‘The Deadly Go-Between!’, but militant radicals aren’t the only threat as seen in concluding episode ‘A Bullet For Gordon!’: heralding a far greater role for the once-anodyne authority figure and leading to his integral role in today’s Bat-universe.

Robbins & Heck also revealed a shocking secret about the Commissioner that would build through the remaining Batgirl adventures, beginning with ‘The Kingpin is Dead!’, concerning a “motiveless” hit on an old gang-boss all cleared up in spectacular fashion with ‘Long Live the Kingpin!’ in #419.

‘Target for Mañana!’ has Babs and her dad travel to Mexico on a narcotics fact-finding mission only to fall foul of a sinister plot in ‘Up Against Three Walls!’, before the series took a landmark turn in ‘The Unmasking of Batgirl’ as a charmer breaks her heart and Babs decides to chuck it all in and run for Congress in ‘Candidate For Danger!’

Detective Comics #424 (June 1972) features ‘Batgirl’s Last Case’ as “Battlin’ Babs” overturns a corrupt political machine and shuffles off to DC, leaving Jason to manage on his own…

That wasn’t quite the end of her first run of adventures. Superman #268 (October 1973) found her battling spies in the Capitol beside the Man of Steel in ‘Wild Week-End in Washington!’, courtesy of Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Bob Oksner before repeating the experience a year later in ‘Menace of the Energy-Blackmailers!’ (Superman #279, by Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa.

This eclectic but highly entertaining compendium concludes with one last Supergirl team-up, this time by Maggin Swan & Colletta from Superman Family #171 (June/July 1975), wherein a distant descendent of the Empress of the Nile uses magic to become ‘Cleopatra, Queen of America’, overwhelming even Superman and the Justice League before our Cape and Cowl champs finally lower the boom…

Batgirl’s early exploits come from and indeed partially shaped an era where women in popular fiction were finally emerging from the marriage-obsessed, ankle-twisting, deferential, fainting hostage-fodder mode that had been their ignoble lot in all media for untold decades. Feminism wasn’t a dirty word or a joke then for the generation of girls who at last got some independent and effective role-models with (metaphorically, at least) balls.

Complex yet uncomplicated, the adventures of Batgirl grew beyond their crassly commercial origins to make a real difference. However, these tales are not only significant but drenched in charm and wit; drawn with a gloriously captivating style and panache that still delights and enthrals. This is no girly comic but a full-on thrill ride you can’t afford to ignore and which deserves to be revived with all the bells, whistles and respect the characters and stories rightfully command…
© 1967-1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

By Jill Thompson, lettered by Jason Arthur (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4901-4 (HB) 978-1-4012-7450-4 (TPB)

Iconic global role model Wonder Woman was conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in an attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model. She debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), before springing into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon quickly won her own eponymous supplemental title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Once upon a time in the traditional history, on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young and impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearing her daughter’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they henceforward isolate themselves from the rest of the world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when goddesses Athena and Aphrodite subsequently instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty, Diana overcame all other candidates in a vast sporting and combat competition and became their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America. Soon after, Diana also gained a position with Army Intelligence, ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved.

Now this modern alternate version requests that you forget most of that as Jill Thompson offers another take on the formative years of the Princess Diana in an epic retelling painted in the manner of a picture book but with the no-holds barred punch you’d expect from Earth’s premiere Warrior Woman (Diana, not Jill).

Following an ‘Introduction’ by novelist and comics creator Mariko Tamaki (Skim; Saving Montgomery Sole; This One Summer), the subtly reconfigured saga opens on idyllic Themyscira: an island paradise inhabited by immortal warrior women. As before, their fate is the result of iniquities inflicted upon them by male “heroes” such as Herakles – secretly abetted by lustful Zeus – before stern Hera intervened to allow the Amazons to escape and build a bastion of culture in isolation.

However, their triumphant leader Queen Hippolyta was discontented. She craved a child more than life itself, and one special night her sadness and yearning touched the gods, who turned a shape drawn in sand into a real baby…

The child was beloved of all the Amazons, growing in an atmosphere of adoration and constant, uncritical approval. As well as smart, fast, brave and strong, baby Diana subsequently became insufferably spoiled, incurably vain and revoltingly selfish.

How that privileged brat became the humble, driven, noble protector of the weak is a tale of love, valour, repentance and redemption to delight and shock as the young wonder warrior endures a ghastly transformational motivating incident that traumatically reshapes her life in one shocking moment…

Embracing and channelling Classical Greek motifs while offering a most believable and human childhood for the little princess, this dark fairy tale is a powerful revision of Wonder Woman’s creation myth for a world marginally more inclusive than the patronising era of WWII, and provides a far more potent and logical reason for her exile to the world of Men than simple infatuation…

Augmented by a ‘Sketchbook’ section detailing page-roughs, scene-designs, fashions; the creation of the book cover; the process From Pencils to Color and a feature on ‘Designing the Wonder Woman Statue’, this is a brilliant reassessment of the iconic Diana and one well worth seeking out in either hardback or trade format, or even nature-nurturing eBook editions.
© 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Canary Archives volume 1

By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-734-4 (HB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female furies to hold a star spot in the DC universe, following Wonder Woman, Liberty Belle and Red Tornado (who actually masqueraded as a man to comedically crush crime – with a couple of kids in tow, too!). She predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl (remember her?) and disappeared with most of other superheroes at the end of the Golden Age, to be revived with the Justice Society of America in 1963.

She was created by Bob Kanigher & Carmine Infantino in 1947, echoing the worldly, dangerous women cropping up in the burgeoning wave of crime novels and on the silver screen in film noir tales better suited to the wiser, more cynical Americans who had just endured a World War and were even then gearing up for a paranoiac Cold one…

Clad in a revealing bolero jacket, shorts, fishnet stockings and high-heeled pirate boots, the devastating shady lady who looked like Veronica Lake even began life as a thief…

This superb full-colour hardback collection was released in 2001 to capitalise on the character’s small screen debut in the first Birds of Prey TV series. It gathers her admittedly short run of tales in Flash Comics (#86-104, August 1947 – February 1949), Comics Cavalcade #25 (February/March 1948), plus two adventures that went unused when the comicbook folded: one of the earliest casualties in the wave of changing tastes which decimated the superhero genre until the late 1950s. Those last only resurfaced at the end of the Second Great Superhero Winnowing and were subsequently published in DC Special #3 and Adventure Comics #399 (June 1969 & November 1970 respectively).

Also intriguingly included are two stellar appearances in Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), therein teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted but ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part solo thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April – May 1972) after she successfully migrated to “our” world and replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

Regrettably, all these treasures can only be found here. Incomprehensibly, DC have allowed this entire imprint of reading gold lie fallow for years, both in print and digital formats. Hopefully, events in their cinematic analogues will entice them into reviving the Archive line… and adding to it…

In the heady, desperate days of post-war uncertainty, continuity was meagre and nobody cared much about origins. All that mattered was pace, plot, action and spectacle. As we’ll see, even when the Black Bird got her own strip, where she came from was never as important as who she faced…

Flash Comics #86 was just another superhero anthology publication, suffering a slow downturn in sales, and perennial back-up feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed its sell-by date. Although a member of the JSA, Johnny was an idiot; a genuine simpleton who just happened to control a genie-like Thunderbolt.

His affable good-hearted bumbling had carried him through the war, but changing fashions had no room for a hapless (adult) hero anymore. When he encountered a masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. In this introductory yarn, ‘The Black Canary’ tricks him and T-Bolt into acquiring an invitation to a crime-lord’s party, lifts the ill-gotten loot and leaves Johnny to mop up the hoods. It was lust at first sight…

Nothing much was expected from these complete-in-one-episode filler strips. Hawkman and The Flash still hogged all the covers and glory, and although young artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Robert Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured the immediate return of the Blonde Bombshell as she again makes the big goof her patsy, leaving ‘The Package of Peril’ in his inept hands. When mobsters retrieve the purloined parcel and secret documents it contains, Johnny follows and, more by luck than design, rescues the Canary from a deadly trap.

She returned in #88 – sans domino-mask now – using trained black canaries to deliver messages as she again finds herself in over her head and is forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself before retrieving ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale as ‘Produce the Crime!’ sees the cheerful chump accidentally busting a gem-smuggling scheme without any help from the Girl Gladiator – but she did return in full force for #90 as ‘Johnny Thunder and the Black Canary’ officially team up to thwart a photographic frame-up and blackmail plot in ‘Triple Exposure!’

They resumed the partnership in #91 as gangsters used rockets and ‘The Tumbling Trees!’ in their efforts to trap the svelte nemesis of evil – and just to be clear: that’s her, not Johnny…

The strip became Black Canary with the next issue. She even got to appear on the Lee Elias cover with Flash and Hawkman. Johnny simply vanished without trace or mention and his name was peremptorily applied elsewhere to a new cowboy hero as the rise of traditional genre material such westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise that the wreath she is working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, the Blonde Bombshell is just in time to save him from a wily gang of truck hijackers.

And that’s all the set-up we got. The new status quo was established and a pattern for fast-paced but inconsequential rollercoaster action romps took off…

To celebrate her arrival, the Canary also appeared in catch-all anthology Comics Cavalcade – specifically #25 cover-dated February/March 1948 where she flamboyantly finishes a ‘Tune of Terror!’ inflicted on a rural hick trying to claim an inheritance, but encountering nothing but music-themed menace…

A word of warning: Kanigher was a superbly gifted and wildly imaginative writer, but he never let sense come between him and a memorable visual. The manic Deus ex Machina moment where a carpet of black canaries snatches the eponymous avenger and victim out of a death-plunge is, indeed, utter idiocy, but in those days, anything went…

Back in a more rational milieu and mood for Flash Comics #93, the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Crystal!’ has the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled many gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry had pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf had no idea his mousy landlady was the lethal object of his crime-busting desires…

The rather pedestrian ‘Corsage of Death!’ in #94 sees them save a scientist’s ultimate weapon from canny crooks, whilst ‘An Orchid for the Deceased!’ spectacularly finds the Avian Avenger framed for murder in an extremely classy Noir murder mystery before #96 combines equestrian robbery with aerial combat as gem thieves risk innocent lives to solve ‘The Riddle of the Topaz Brooch!’

Finally finding a formula that worked, Kanigher had Larry and the Canary investigate textile thieving thugs involved in ‘The Mystery of the Stolen Cloth!’ and murdering stamp-stealers in #98’s ‘The Byzantine Black’, as Infantino’s art grew ever more efficient and boldly effective.

‘Time Runs Out!’ in #99 ups the drama as ruthless radium-stealing gangsters trap the duo in a giant hourglass, and #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track down a model-making gang of burglars and are unexpectedly caught in ‘The Circle of Terror!’

Just as the stories were building momentum and finding a unique voice, the curtains were beginning to draw closed. ‘The Day that Wouldn’t End!’ in #101 sees Canary and gumshoe uncover a sinister scheme to drive a rich man mad, Dinah’s shop becomes an unsuspected tool of crafty crooks in ‘The Riddle of the Roses!’, and ‘Mystery on Ice!’ finds the capable crime-crushers suckered by a pack of thieves determined to steal a formula vital to America’s security.

Flash Comics disappeared with #104, making way for new titles and less fantastic thrills. ‘Crime on Her Hands’ ended the Canary’s crusade on a high, however, with an absorbing murder-mystery involving a college class of criminologists. She wouldn’t be seen again until the return of the Justice Society as part of the Silver Age revival of costumed mystery men, when awestruck readers learned that there were infinite Earths and untold wonders to see…

Nevertheless, the sudden cancellation meant two months’ worth of material was in various stages of preparation when the axe fell. The “All-Girl Issue” of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in 1969, with Bernard Sachs inking Infantino as ‘Special Delivery Death!’ finds Lance framed for murder and both Dinah and Black Canary using their particular gifts to clear him. Adventure Comics #399 printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to a crime in the making…

Once the Silver Age revival took hold, superheroes were everywhere and response to Earth-2 appearances prompted DC to try-out a number of impressive permutations designed to bring back the World’s first team of costumed adventurers.

Try-out comic The Brave and the Bold #61 offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science known as Starman. The deliriously cool cases began with ‘Mastermind of Menaces’, as vile techno-wizard The Mist returned, using doctored flowers to hypnotise his victims into voluntarily surrendering their wealth.

When he utilised Dinah’s flower shop to source his souped-up blooms, she, husband Larry and visiting pal Ted were soon on the villain’s trail…

Mystery and intrigue gave way to all-out action in #62’s ‘The Great Superhero Hunt!’ as husband-and-wife criminals Sportsmaster and Huntress began stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their first victim Ted and Dinah were on the case and ready for anything…

These latter classic tales alone are worth the price of purchase, but this splendid tome still has the very best to come as Adventure Comics #418 & 419 provide a scintillating 2-part graphic extravaganza by Dennis O’Neil & the legendary Alex Toth.

Originally an Earth-2 crime-fighter, Dinah was transplanted to our world by the wonders of trans-dimensional vibration after husband Larry was killed (see Justice League of America #73-75 or many assorted JLA compilations). Beginning a possibly rebound romance with Green Arrow, Dinah struggled to find her feet on a strangely different yet eerily familiar world. In ‘The Canary and the Cat! Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved Blonde Bombshell has no idea her pupils are hirelings of vicious criminal Catwoman and the martial arts moves she shares will lead to her death and the liberation of a deadly menace…

Augmented by a fond remembrance from co-creator Carmine Infantino in his Foreword and detailed biographies of the many people who worked on the character, this admittedly erratic collection starts slow but builds in quality until it ranks amongst the very best examples of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy. I hope you get a chance to see it…
© 1947-1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale

By Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Doug Moench, Ed Brubaker, Frank Springer, Lew Sayer Schwartz, Kurt Schaffenberger, Irv Novick, Tom Mandrake, Michael Avon Oeming (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0213-2 (TPB)

It feels odd to plug a book that is so obviously a quick and cheap cash-cow tie-in to a movie (and a bad movie, at that), but this Catwoman volume from 2004 has a great deal to recommend it. For a start it is quaintly cheap ‘n’ cheerful. The references to the film are kept to an absolute minimum. The selection of reprints, purporting to signify nine distinct takes on the venerable femme fatale are well considered in terms of what the reader hasn’t seen as opposed to what they have. There are also some rare and stunning art pieces selected as chapter heads, too, from the likes of George Perez, Dave Stevens, Alan Davis and Bruce Timm.

The stories themselves vary in quality by modern standards, but serve as an intriguing indicator of taste in the manner of a time capsule or introductory Primer. Track the feline fury from her first appearance as mysterious thief ‘The Cat’ (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson: Batman #1 1940), through ‘The Crimes of the Catwoman’ (Edmond Hamilton, Kane/Lew Sayer Schwartz & Charles Paris: Detective #203 1954), to the wonderfully absurdist cat fight with Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (#70-71: 1966), as described by Leo Dorfman & Kurt Schaffenberger in ‘The Catwoman’s Black Magic’ and ‘Bad Luck for a Black Super-Cat!’

A victim of 1960’s TV “Batmania”, ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman’ sees her battle Batgirl in a cringingly painful outing from Batman #197, by 1967 by Gardner Fox, Frank Springer & Sid Greene) but at least it can be regarded as the nadir of her decline from sexy object of pursuit to imbecilic Twinkie. From here it’s onwards and upwards again…

In the nonsensical ‘The Case of the Purr-Loined Pearl’ (Batman #210, 1969), Frank Robbins, Irv Novick & Joe Giella slowly (and oh, so terribly gradually) begin her return to major villain status, after which Doug Moench, Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema devise ‘A Town on the Night’ (Batman #392, 1986), showing one of her innumerable romantic excursions onto the right side of the law before ‘Object Relations’ (Catwoman #54 1998), shows us a ghastly but brief “Bad-Grrrl” version of the glamorous super-thief.

Mercifully, we then get to the absolutely enthralling ‘Claws’ (Batman: Gotham Adventures #4 1998, by Ty Templeton, Rich Burchett& Terry Beatty), produced in the spin-off comic based on the television cartoon but probably the best piece of pure comic book escapism in the whole package. The volume closes with another revision of her origin ‘The Many Lives of Selina Kyle’ (Catwoman Secret Files#1 2002), by Ed Brubaker, Michael Avon Oeming & Mike Manley.

Catwoman is a timeless icon and one of the few female comic characters that the entire real world has actually heard of, so it’s great that the whole deal is such a light, frothy outing, as well as having some rarity appeal for dedicated fans. Go get her, Tiger!
© 1940-1955, 1956-2002, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Firestorm the Nuclear Man: Reborn

By Stuart Moore, Jamal Igle & Keith Champagne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1219-3 (TPB)

One of the best “straight” superhero series of the last decade came and went with very little fanfare and only (thus far) this intriguing collection to mark its passage. Firestorm the Nuclear Man was created by Gerry Conway & Al Milgrom, launched in 1978 and promptly fell foul of the “DC Implosion” after five flamboyant, fun-filled issues.

High School Jock Ronnie Raymond and Nobel winning nuclear physicist Martin Stein were, due to a bizarre concatenation of circumstances, caught in an atomic blast that melded their bodies and minds into a fusion-powered being with extraordinary powers over matter and energy. Ronnie had conscious control of their consolidated body, and became an exuberant, flashy superhero, with a unique pantheon of villains all his own.

He was drafted into the Justice League of America, and eventually won a  well-received back-up series in The Flash (#289 to 304) which led to his second chance; Fury of Firestorm (100 issues and five Annuals between June 1982 and August 1990) before fading into the quiet semi-obscurity of team-books and guest-shots.

In 2004 Dan Jolley & Chrisscross reinvented the character. Black Detroit kid Jason Rusch was brought back from the brink of death thanks to a blazing energy ball (the Firestorm matrix seeking a new host after the murder of its previous body – although nobody discovered that for nearly a year…). This new version of the Nuclear Man can absorb any other body into the matrix, using them as a kind of battery – or more accurately spark plug – for Jason’s powers.

After impressively establishing himself as a hero in his own right he joined Donna Troy’s Space Strike Force in the Infinite Crisis, consequently suffering hideous injuries.

Inexplicably this volume (reprinting issues #23-27 of the third Firestorm comicbook series) ignores all that back-story and begins as part of the One Year Later narrative strand. Jason can now only combine with fellow atomic hero Firehawk, and their un-combined personas cannot safely be more than a mile apart. That’s rather problematic as Jason is a student in New York and Lorraine Reilley, when not Firehawk, is a United States Senator. Jason’s teleporting girlfriend Gehennaisn’t too keen on how much time her man and that “Older Woman” spend together either…

As Firestorm they are desperately searching for Martin Stein, missing for a year and somehow connected to a plot to destroy the Earth, but their quest has also made them/him the target for some extremely dangerous people…

By trying not to give too much away I might have made this tale seem a bit daunting or confusing, but it really isn’t. This is a deliciously clever and witty adventure, providing plenty of opportunities to bring first-time fans up to speed, with likable characters, dastardly villains, an intriguing mystery, plenty of action and loads of laughs – just like the rest of the series was. It reads enchantingly and is really beautiful to look at, so I just don’t understand why newcomers’ first exposure to this material should be with the 23rd chapter and not the first…

You would have thought Firestorm’s appearances in TV animation delight the Brave and the Bold or as one of the Legends of Tomorrow would have prompted somebody to release the rest of this utterly appetising little gem in trade paperback or digital editions by now. Still it’s never too late to start agitating for change is it?
© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Vixen: Return of the Lion

By G. Willow Wilson & CAFU, with Bit, Josh Middleton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2512-4 (TPB)

In 1978 fashion model Mari Jiwe McCabe nearly became the first black woman to star in her own American comic book. Sadly, the infamous “DC Implosion” of that year saw the Vixen series cancelled before release. She eventually premiered three years later in Action Comics #521’s ‘The Deadly Rampage of the Lady Fox’ (by creator Gerry Conway and Superman mainstays Curt Swan & Frank Chiaramonte) and remained lurking around the DC Universe until she joined a re-booted JLA (latterly dubbed JLA Detroit) in Justice League of America Annual #2.

A classic team-player, over intervening decades working within assorted JLA rosters, Suicide Squad, Ultramarine Corps, Checkmate and the Birds of Prey, Vixen’s origin has changed a lot less than most. It even remained mostly unmeddled-with when she made the jump to TV as part of the DC Legends of Tomorrow show…

Mari Jiwe comes from a line of warriors blessed by animist Trickster god Kwaku Anansi. The mythical creator of all stories claims to have designed her abilities – and those of fellow hero Animal Man – allowing Vixen, through use of an arcane artefact dubbed the Tantu Totem, to channel the attributes and power of every animal that has ever lived.

As a child in M’Changa Province, Zambesi, Mari’s mother was killed by poachers and her missionary father murdered by his own brother over possession of the Totem. To thwart her uncle, the orphan moved to America, eventually becoming a fashion model to provide funding and cover for her mission of revenge…

At first a reluctant superhero, Vixen became one of the most effective crusaders on the international scene and was a key member of the latest Justice League when her powers began to malfunction and she was forced to confront Anansi himself (for which tales see Justice League of America: Sanctuary and Justice League of America: Second Coming)…

Scripted by author, essayist, journalist and comics scribe G. Willow Wilson (Cairo, Air, Ms. Marvel, Wonder Woman) and illustrated by Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano AKA CAFU (Action Comics, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Imperium, Unity), Vixen: Return of the Lion originally appeared as a 5-part miniseries in 2009 and opens here sans preamble with  ‘Predators’ wherein a League operation uncovers a plot by techno-thugs Intergang to fund a revolution in troubled African nation Zambesi. Amongst the impounded files is a record which proves that 15 years earlier, Vixen’s mother was actually killed by Aku Kwesi, a local warlord working with the American criminals…

When Mari learns the truth, not even Superman can stop her from heading straight to her old village to find the man responsible. Africa is not America, however, and the lawless settlement has no time for a woman who does not know her place – even if she does have superpowers. When Kwesi appears, Vixen’s powers are useless against him and she escapes with her life only because the warlord’s lieutenant Sia intervenes…

In ‘Prey’, broken, gravely wounded Mari is dumped in the veldt by Sia and staggers her way across the war-ravaged plain, battling beasts and hallucinating – or perhaps meeting ghosts – until she is attacked by a young lion and rescued by a holy man…

Alarmed at Vixen’s disappearance and further discoveries connecting Kwesi to Intergang, the JLA mobilise in ‘Sanctuary’as the lost Vixen gradually recuperates in a place where the constant battles of fang and claw survival are suspended and the saintly Brother Tabo offers her new perspective and greater understanding of her abilities. Her JLA colleagues, meanwhile, have exposed Intergang’s infiltration but fallen to a power even Superman could not resist…

As the League struggles against overwhelming odds, ‘Risen’ sees a transcendent Vixen flying to the rescue, and picking up some unexpected allies before facing her greatest challenge in shocking conclusion ‘Idols’, wherein more hidden truths are revealed and a greater mystery begins to unfold…

Featuring a gallery of stunning covers by Josh Middleton, this is an exceptional and moodily exotic piece of Fights ‘n’ Tights fluff to delight devotees of the genre and casual readers alike, and one long overdue for re-release and inclusion in the growing library of environmentally-beneficial digital comics and books.
© 2006, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: The Silver Age volume 4

By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Gil Kane, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9435-9 (TPB)

After a hugely successful revival and reworking of Golden Age Great The Flash, DC (National Periodical Publications as they were then) were keen to build on a resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit newsstands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella.

Hal Jordan was a brash young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashed his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his ring – a device which could materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer: one both honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, the wonder weapon selected Jordan and whisked him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeathed his ring, the lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his profession to the astonished Earthman.

In 6 pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ established characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity. Now that the concept of the superhero was swiftly being re-established among the buying public, there was no shortage of gaudily clad competition. The better books thrived by having something a little “extra”.

With Green Lantern that was primarily the superb scripts of John Broome and Gardner Fox and the astounding drawing of Gil Kane (ably abetted in this collection by primary inker Sic Greene) whose dynamic anatomy and dramatic action scenes were maturing with every page he drew. Happily, the concept itself was also a provider of boundless opportunity.

Other heroes had extraterrestrial, other-dimensional and even trans-temporal adventures, but the valiant champion of this series was also a cop: a lawman working for the biggest police force in the entire universe.

This fabulous fourth paperback and eBook compilation gathers Green Lantern #36-48 (April 1965 to October 1966) and, with Hal Jordan firmly established as a major star of the company firmament, increasingly became the series to provide conceptual highpoints and “big picture” foundations. These, successive creators would use to build the tight-knit history and continuity of the DC universe. At this time there was also a turning away from the simple imaginative wonder of a ring that could do anything in favour of a hero who increasingly ignored easy solutions in preference to employing his mighty fists.

What a happy coincidence then, that at this time artist Gil Kane was reaching an artistic peak, his dynamic full-body anatomical triumphs bursting with energy and crashing out of every page…

Scripted by Gardner Fox Green Lantern #36 cover-featured captivatingly bizarre mystery ‘Secret of the Power-Ringed Robot!’ (how can you resist a tale that is tag-lined “I’ve been turned into a robot… and didn’t even know it!”?) and followed that all-action conundrum with the incredible tale of Dorine Clay; a young lady who was the last hope of her race against the machinations of the dread alien Headmen in John Broome’s ‘Green Lantern’s Explosive Week-End!’

As previously stated, physical combat had been steadily overtaking ring magic in the pages of the series and all-Fox #37’s‘The Spies Who “Owned” Green Lantern!’ – despite being a twist-heavy drama of espionage and intrigue – was no exception, whilst second story ‘The Plot to Conquer the Universe!’ pitted the Emerald Crusader against Evil Star, an alien foe both immortal and invulnerable, who gave the hero plenty of reasons to lash out in spectacular, eye-popping manner.

For #38 (another all-Fox scripted affair), Jordan re-teamed with fellow Green Lantern Tomar Re to battle ‘The Menace of the Atomic Changeling!’ in a brilliant alien menace escapade counterpointed by ‘The Elixir of Immortality!’ wherein criminal mastermind Keith Kenyon absorbs a gold-based serum to become a veritable superman. He might be immune to Ring Energy (which can’t affect anything yellow, as eny old Fule kno) but eventually our hero’s flashing fists bring him low – a fact he will never forget on the many occasions he returns as merciless master criminal Goldface

Green Lantern #39 (September 1965) featured two tales by world-traveller John Broome, Kane & master inker Sid Green: opening with a return engagement for Black Hand, the Cliché Criminal entitled ‘Practice Makes the Perfect Crime!’ and ending in a bombastic slugfest with an alien prize fighter named Bru Tusfors in ‘The Fight for the Championship of the Universe!’ They were mere warm-ups for the next issue.

‘The Secret Origin of the Guardians!’ was a landmark second only to ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (see Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups) as Broome teamed the Emerald Gladiator with his Earth-2 counterpart Alan Scott to stop Krona, an obsessed Oan scientist whose misguided attempts to discover the origins of the universe had first introduced evil into our pristine reality billions of years ago. His actions forced his immortal brethren to become protectors of life and civilisation in an unending act of group contrition – the Guardians of the Universe.

Simultaneously high concept and action packed, this tale became the keystone of DC cosmology and a springboard for all those mega-apocalyptic publishing events such as Crisis on Infinite Earths. It has seldom been equalled and never bettered…

Gardner Fox tackled issue #41 spotlighting twisted romance in ‘The Double Life of Star Sapphire!’ as an alien power-gem once more compelled Jordan’s boss and true love Carol Ferris to subjugate and marry her sometime paramour Green Lantern, and wrote another cracking magical mystery to end the issue as extraterrestrial wizard Myrwhydden posed ‘The Challenge of the Coin Creatures!’

The next release was ‘The Other Side of the World!’ wherein Fox continued a long-running experiment in continuity with a superb tale of time-lost civilisations and an extra-dimensional invasion by the Warlock of Ys co-starring the peripatetic quester Zatanna the Magician.

At that time the top-hatted, fish-netted young sorceress appeared in a number of Julie Schwartz-edited titles, hunting her long-missing father Zatarra: a magician-hero in the Mandrake mould who had fought evil in the pages of Action Comics for over a decade beginning with the very first issue.

In true Silver Age “refit” style, Fox concocted a young and equally empowered daughter, popularising her by guest-teaming her with a selection of superheroes he was currently scripting. If you’re counting, these tales appeared in Hawkman #4, Atom #19, Green Lantern #42, and an Elongated Man back-up strip in Detective Comics #355 as well as a very slick piece of back writing to include the high-profile Caped Crusader via Detective #336 before concluding after this GL segment in Justice League of America #51. You can enjoy the entire early epic by tracking down Justice League of America: Zatanna’s Search

The much-mentioned Flash guest-starred in #43: sharing a high-powered tussle with a new tectonically terrifying nemesis in Fox’s ‘Catastrophic Crimes of Major Disaster!’ and the next issue provide two tales – an increasing rarity as book-length epics became the action-packed norm.

Oddly, second-class postage discounts had for years dictated the format of comic-books: to qualify for cheaper rates periodicals had to contain more than one feature, but when the rules were revised single, complete tales not divided into “chapters” soon proliferated. Here though are two reasons to bemoan the switch; Fox’s ‘Evil Star’s Death-Duel Summons’and Broome’s Jordan Brothers adventure ‘Saga of the Millionaire Schemer!’, offering high-intensity super-villain action and a heady, witty comedy-of-errors mystery as Hal visits his family and is embroiled in new sister-in-law Sue’s hare-brained scheme to prove her husband Jim Jordan is Green Lantern… .

Earth-2’s Green Lantern returned for another team-up in #45’s fantasy romance romp ‘Prince Peril’s Power Play’, scripted by Broome, who raised the dramatic stakes with the hero’s first continued adventure in the following issue. Preceded by a spectacular Kane pin-up, Green Lantern #46 opens with Fox’s delightfully grounded crime-thriller ‘The Jailing of Hal Jordan’, before ‘The End of a Gladiator!’ details the murder of the Earth-1 GL by old foe Dr. Polaris, concluding with his honour-laden funeral on Oa, home of the Guardians!

Broome was on fire at this time: the following issue and concluding chapter sees the hero’s corpse snatched to the 58thcentury and revived in time to save his occasional future home from a biological infection of pure evil in the spectacular triumph ‘Green Lantern Lives Again!’

Bizarrely garbed goodies and baddies were common currency at this time of incipient TV-generated “Batmania” so when gold-plated mad scientist Keith Kenyon returned it was as a dyed-in-the-wool costumed crazy for Fox’s ‘Goldface’s Grudge Fight Against Green Lantern!’, a brutal clash of opposites and perfect place to pause for the moment.

These costumed drama romps are in themselves a great read for most ages, but when also considered as the building blocks of all DC continuity they become vital fare for any fan keen to make sense of the modern superhero experience. This blockbusting book showcases the imaginative and creative peak of Broome, Fox and Kane: a plot driven plethora of adventure sagas and masterful thrillers that literally reshaped the DC Universe. Action lovers and fans of fantasy fiction couldn’t find a better example of everything that defines superhero comics.
© 1965, 1966, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger volume 1

By Mike Friedrich, John Broome, France Herron, Bob Kanigher, Mike Sekowsky, Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, Jack Oleck, Len Wein, Steve Skeates, Mark Hanerfield, John Albano, Jerry Grandenetti, Leonard Starr, Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Bill Draut, Frank Giacoia, Neal Adams, Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Jim Aparo, Tony DeZuñiga, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1088-5 (TPB)

Since 1936 DC Comics have published an incalculable wealth of absolutely wonderful comics tales in a variety of genres and addressing a wide variety of age ranges and tastes.

Sadly, unlike rival Marvel, these days they seem content to let most of it languish beyond the reach of fans, so as a new decade – possibly or last – unfolds, I’ll be continuing my one-person campaign to remind them and inform you that – like The Truth – the Fiction is also Out There… even if only still available in older collections…

Spanning the end of 1968 to October 1972, this mammoth monochrome tome collects Showcase #80 and Phantom Stranger #1-21, attempting to blend the rising taste for blood and horror with more traditional masked mystery man derring-do…

The Phantom Stranger was also one of the earliest transitional heroes of the Golden Age of comics, created at the very end of the first superhero boom as readers moved from costumed crimefighters to other genres such as mystery, crime, war and western tales. A trench-coated, mysterious know-it-all, with shadowed eyes and hat pulled down low, he would appear, debunk a legend or foil a supernatural-seeming plot, and then vanish again.

He was coolly ambiguous, never revealing whether he was man, mystic or personally paranormal. Probably created by John Broome & Carmine Infantino, who produced the first story in Phantom Stranger #1 (August/September 1952) and most of the others, the 6-issue run also boasted contributions from Jack Miller, Manny Stallman and John Giunta. The last issue was cover-dated June/July, 1953, after which the character vanished.

Flash-forward to the end of 1968. The second superhero boom is rapidly becoming a bust, and traditional costumed heroes are dropping like flies. Suspense and mystery titles are the Coming Thing and somebody has the bright idea of reviving Phantom Stranger. He is the last hero revival of DC’s Silver Age and the last to graduate to his own title during the star-studded initial run of Showcase, appearing in #80 (cover-dated January/February 1969) before debuting in his own comic three months later. This time, he found an appreciative audience, running for 41 issues over seven years.

Rather than completely renovate the character, or simply run complete reprints as DC had when trying to revive espionage ace King Faraday (in Showcase #50-51), Editor Joe Orlando had writer Mike Friedrich and artist Jerry Grandenetti create a contemporary framing sequence of missing children for 1950s tale ‘the Three Signs of Evil’, and – in a masterstroke of print economy – introduced (or rather reintroduced) another lost 1950s mystery hero to fill out the comic, and provide a thoroughly modern counterpoint.

Dr. Terrence Thirteen is a parapsychologist known as the Ghost Breaker. He had his own feature in Star-Spangled Comics #122-130 (November 1951 to July 1952). With fiancée (later wife) Marie he roamed America debunking supernatural hoaxes and catching mystic-themed fraudsters, a vocal and determined cynic who was imported whole into the Showcase try-out as a foil for the Stranger. Reprinted here was origin tale ‘I Talked with the Dead!’ by an unknown writer – probably “France” Herron – with art by Leonard Starr & Wayne Howard.

Despite this somewhat choppy beginning, the try-out was a relative success and (Follow Me… For I Am…) The Phantom Stranger launched with a May/June 1969 cover-date. In another framing sequence by Friedrich & Bill Draut, a tale of impossible escape from certain death is revealed in ‘When Ghosts Walk!’, a 1950s thriller from John Broome, Carmine Infantino and Sy Barry, followed by an all new mystery ‘Defeat the Dragon Curse… or Die!’ Firmly establishing that the supernatural is real, Friedrich & Draut pit the Stranger and Dr. 13 against each other as well as an ancient Chinese curse.

‘The Man Who Died Three Times’ in the second issue relates a mystery with a mundane yet deadly origin, with the incorporated reprint Stranger tale ‘The House of Strange Secrets’ (Broome, Infantino and Barry) and Dr. 13’s ‘The Girl Who Lived 5,000 Years’ both providing the uneasy chills that Friedrich & Draut’s by-the-numbers tale do not.

Issue #3 once again employs frightened kids as a vehicle to encapsulate vintage thrillers in a tale with a sinister carnival component. The Stranger relives ‘How Do You Know My Name?’ (by Broome & Frank Giacoia) whilst Dr. 13 proves once more that there are ‘No Such Thing as Ghosts!’ (Herron & Starr).

With such a formularised start it’s a miracle the series reached the landmark issue #4 where Robert Kanigher & Neal Adams (who had been responsible for the lion’s share of eerie, captivating covers thus far) produced a much more proactive hero in the mystery triptych ‘There is Laughter in Hell This Day!’, ‘There is Laughter in Hell Tonight!’ and ‘Even the Walls are Weeping!’

Stalwart Bill Draut provided inks for this classy classic in which Terry Thirteen becomes a far more militant – and consequently frustrated – debunker of the Stranger’s “hocus-pocus” when Tala, the demonic Queen of Evil and Mistress of Darkness escapes her ancient tomb to bedevil the modern world with only the Phantom Stranger and an eclectic gang of runaway teens to oppose her.

This new combative format and repositioning of the book was presumably for the benefit of older kids. The protagonist teens were a strange composite of counter-culture stereotypes named Spartacus (black kid), Attila (greasy biker), Wild Rose (blonde flower child) and Mister Square (conformist drop-out) who feel a little forced now but were the saving of the book, as was the dropping of 17-year old reprints. From now on the stranger would really battle the Dark Powers and Dr. 13 would assume the metaphorical role of a blustering, officious parent who had no idea what was really going on.

An added bonus in this cracking issue was a nifty 3-page horror vignette from Kanigher and the wonderful Murphy Anderson entitled ‘Out of This World’.

Anderson returned to ink the unique Mike Sekowsky in Phantom Stranger # 5, a full-length ghostly thriller featuring more of Tala’s handiwork in ‘the Devil’s Playground!’, topped off with another horror short by Kanigher, credited to Sekowsky here but actually a fine example of Curt Swan’s subtle mastery, especially as it’s inked by Anderson.

Sekowsky wrote and illustrated the next issue, under inks from Vince Colletta. ‘No. 13 Thirteenth Street’ is a Haunted House tale with those meddling kids and Dr. 13 getting underfoot in a delightfully light and whimsical diversion before Kanigher and Tala return in #7’s dark saga ‘The Curse!’, wherein both the Stranger and Terry Thirteen are right and the solution to madness and sudden deaths is both fraud and the supernatural!

This issue is particularly important in that it features the debut of up-and-coming Jim Aparo as illustrator. Over the next few years his art on this feature would be some of the very best in the entire industry.

Issue #8 unearthed an early arctic eco-thriller with supernatural overtones as Denny O’Neil described the tragic ‘Journey to the Tomb of the Ice Giants!’ whilst Dr. 13 returned to his own solo feature to deal with ‘The Adventure of the Brittle Blossom!’ Sekowsky scripted #9’s ‘Obeah Man!’ a tense shocker of emerging nations and ancient magic which showed Aparo’s superb versatility with exotic locales.

Young Gerry Conway wrote ‘Death… Call Not My Name!’ for #10, introducing another stylish returning villain in immortal alchemist Tannarak, whilst finding room for a quickie as the Stranger proves to be no match for ‘Charlie’s Crocodile.’ Phantom Stranger #11 (Conway & Aparo) details a colossal new threat as evil-doers everywhere begin to vanish in ‘Walk Not in the Desert Sun…’ before Kanigher returns with a classy haunted love-story in ‘Marry Me… Marry Death!’ in #12. This issue also offers another debunking solo stand for the Ghost Breaker in Jack Oleck and Tony DeZuñiga’s ‘A Time to Die’.

Science meets supernature in #13 when death stalks a research community in ‘Child of Death’ and Dr. 13 survives an encounter with ‘the Devil’s Timepiece’: both scripts from Kanigher with art by Aparo and DeZuñiga respectively.

Len Wein wrote possibly the spookiest ever adventure to feature Phantom Stranger in #14’s ‘The Man with No Heart!’: a story which resolves forever the debate about the dark hero’s humanity whilst introducing another long-term adversary for our delectation. The Ghost Breaker has his own brush with super-science – but definitely not the supernatural, no sir! – in Wein & DeZuñiga’s ‘The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!’ – a tale that actually pushes the Stranger off his own front cover!

Issue #15 returns him to the Dark Continent as a robotics engineer is caught up in revolution in Wein & Aparo’s ‘The Iron Messiah’ whilst Kanigher & DeZuñiga send Dr. 13 up against ‘Satan’s Sextet’. On a roll now, the Phantom Stranger creative team surpass themselves with each successive issue, beginning with an ancient horror captured as an ‘Image in Wax’, nicely balanced by sneaky murder mystery ‘And the Corpse cried “Murder!”’ (Wein & DeZuñiga).

‘Like a Ghost from the Ashes’ debuts a nominal love-interest in blind psychic Cassandra Craft as well as reintroducing an old foe with new masters in the first chapter of an extended saga – so extended it pushed Ghost Breaker out of #17 altogether. He was back in the back of the next issue in Steve Skeates & DeZuñiga’s tense phantom menace ‘Stopover!’, with the artist drawing double duty by illustrating lead strip ‘Home is the Sailor’: a gothic romance with a sharp twist in the tail.

Old enemies resurface in ‘Return to the Tomb of the Ice Giants!’ as does artist Aparo, whilst Skeates & DeZuñiga’s ‘The Voice of Vengeance’ proves to be another stylish murder mystery in spook’s clothing. ‘A Child Shall Lead Them’ is written by Kanigher, who easily adapts to the new style to craft a tense, powerful chase thriller as all and sundry search for the newest incarnation of a High Lama murdered by magic. Two short suspense tales top off the issue, both illustrated by the veteran Jack Sparling: ‘The Power’, scripted by Mark Hanerfield and John Albano’s ‘A Far Away Place’.

Phantom Stranger #21 completes this superb collection of menace and magic with Wein and Aparo’s ‘The Resurrection of Johnny Glory’ wherein a reanimated assassin finds a good reason to stay dead whilst Dr. 13 debunks one final myth in ‘Woman of Stone’, prompting the question “why don’t killers use guns anymore?”

The DC Showcase compendia were a brilliant and economical way to access superb quality comics fare, and these black and white telephone books of wonderment still offer tremendous value for money. If you’re looking for esoteric thrills and chills this first Phantom Stranger volume has it all. If you’re not a fan yet give it a chance… you will be.
© 1969-1972, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel volume 4

By John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Paul Levitz, Jerry Ordway, Greg LaRoque, Erik Larsen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0455-6 (TPB)

Here’s a classic compilation – and series – which has inexplicably been allowed to drop out of print and is thus long overdue for re-issue. At least this one’s still available in digital editions…

In 1985, when DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that change came none too soon.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a major makeover be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced? The popular wisdom amongst fans was that this new Superman was going to suck. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Superman titles were cancelled or suspended for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit up and take notice of the character for the first time in decades. But there was method in the corporate madness.

Beginning with 6-part miniseries Man of Steel – written and drawn by mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano – the experiment was a huge and instant success. So much so, that when it was first collected as a stand-alone graphic novel in the 1980s, it became one of the industry’s premiere break-out hits. From his overwhelming re-inception the character returned to his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering that same month.

Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics (which became a fan-appeasing team-up book guest-starring other heroes of the DC Universe) were instant best-sellers. So successful was the relaunch that by the early 1990’s Superman would be able to sustain four monthly titles as well as Specials, Annuals, guest shots and his semi-regular appearances in titles such as Justice League.

It was quite a turnaround from the earlier heydays of the Man of Steel when editors were frantic about not over-exposing their biggest gun. With Byrne’s controversial reboot a solid hit, the collaborative teams tasked with ensuring his continued success really hit their stride with the tales collected in this fourth volume.

First published between July and September 1987 and re-presenting in paperback (if you can find it) and eBook formats (if you can’t) the contents of Superman #7-8, Action #590-591 and Adventures of Superman #430-431, this epic tome also includes two critical issues of Legion of Super-Heroes (#37-38) and the wonderment is necessarily preceded here by Introduction ‘Superman or Superboy?’ which outlines the dilemma that occurred after the Man of Tomorrow’s recent retcon eliminated his entire career and achievements as the Boy of Steel…

This event provided a classic back-writing exercise to solve an impossible post-Crisis paradox whilst giving us old geeks a chance to see a favourite character die in a way all heroes should….

The drama kicks off with ‘Rampage!’ by Byrne and inker Karl Kesel (Superman volume 2 #7) as a petty colleague sabotages an experiment at a Metropolis lab and accidentally transforms his boss Dr. Kitty Faulkner into a super-strong rage-fuelled monstrosity. Thankfully, Superman is on hand and possessed of a cool head…

Adventures of Superman #430 then sees the Action Ace ‘Homeward Bound!’ – courtesy of Marv Wolfman & Jerry Ordway – in pitched battle against metahuman bandits the Fearsome Five whilst in Action Comics #590 Byrne & Dick Giordano explore ‘Better Living Dying Through Chemistry’, wherein a bizarre toxic accident turns ambulatory waste dump Chemo into a giant Superman clone. Happily, its old adversaries The Metal Men are on hand to aid in the extremely violent clean-up…

Legion of Super-Heroes #37 (August 1987, by Paul Levitz, Greg LaRoque, Mike DeCarlo & Arne Starr) then sets the scene for ‘A Twist in Time’ as a team of Legionnaires heads back to Smallville to visit founding member Superboy only to find themselves attacked by their greatest ally and inspiration…

The tale continues in Byrne & Kesel’s ‘Future Shock’ (Superman #8): a strange squad of aliens appear in his boyhood hometown. Mistaking Superman for Superboy, the Legionnaires attack and after the inconclusive clash concludes begin to piece together an incredible tale of cosmic villainy that has made suckers of them all…

When a kill-crazed Superboy shows up the tale shifts to Action #491 where Byrne & Keith Williams reveal a ‘Past Imperfect’ as the youthful and adult Kal-El’s butt heads until a ghastly truth is revealed leading to Levitz, LaRoque & Mike DeCarlo’s stunning and tragic conclusion in Legion of Super-Heroes #38 where the manipulative reality-warping mastermind behind the scheme falls to ignominious defeat at the hands of ‘The Greatest Hero of Them All’

Back on solid ground and his own reality the one-and-only Superman then battles a new kind of maniac malcontent in ‘They Call Him… Doctor Stratos’ (by Wolfman, Erik Larsen & “India Inc.” from Adventures of Superman #431): delivering a crushing defeat to a weather-controlling would-be god to wrap up the never-ending battle for another day…

The back-to-basics approach perfected here lured many readers to – and back to – the Superman franchise, but the sheer quality of the stories and art are what convinced them to stay. Such cracking, clear-cut superhero exploits are a high point in the Metropolis Marvel’s decades-long career, and these chronologically-curated collections are certainly the easiest way to enjoy one of the most impressive reinventions of the ultimate comic-book icon.
© 1987, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Green Arrow

By EdFrance” Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Coleman, Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, John Broome, George Kashdan, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, George Papp, Lee Elias, George Roussos, Mike Sekowsky, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0785-4 (TPB)

DC Comics have, over their decades of existence, published an incalculable volume of absolutely wonderful comics tales in a variety of genres and addressing a wide variety of age ranges and tastes.

Sadly, unlike their rival Marvel, these days they seem content to let most of it languish beyond the reach of fans – both devout and vintage or fresh potential new adherents. As a new decade – possibly or last – unfolds I’ll be continuing my one-person campaign to remind them and inform you that – like The Truth – the Fiction is also Out There… even if only still available in older collections…

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars: a fixture of the company’s landscape (in many instances for no discernible reason) more or less continually since his debut in 1941. He was originally created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp for More Fun Comics # 73 as an attempt to expand the company’s superhero portfolio, and in the early years proved quite successful. The bowman and boy partner Speedy were two of the few costumed heroes to survive the end of the Golden Age.

His blatantly opportunistic recombination of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself but the Emerald Archer has somehow always managed to keep himself in vogue. He and sidekick Speedy were part of the 1940s Seven Soldiers of Victory, carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comicbooks and joined the Justice League of America at the peak of their fame before evolving into the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation during the 1960’s “Relevancy Comics” trend, courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams.

Under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to breakthrough miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters (DC’s second Prestige Format Limited Series after the groundbreaking success of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), the battling bowman at last became a headliner: an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls.

After his long career and a few venue changes, by the late1950s and Julie Schwartz’s revivification of the Superhero genre, the Emerald Archer was a solid second feature in both Adventure and World’s Finest Comics. As part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups the company administered to all their remaining costumed old soldiers, he enjoyed a fresh start beginning in the summer of 1958…

This splendidly eclectic collection of the peripatetic champion’s perennial second-string exploits gathers pertinent material from Adventure Comics #250-269, World’s Finest Comics #95-140, Justice League of America #4 and his guest-shots in Brave and the Bold #50, 71 and 85; covering the period July 1958 to September 1969.

Part of that revival happily coincided with the first return to National Comics of Jack Kirby after the collapse of Mainline: the comics company he and partner Joe Simon had created as part of the Crestwood/Prize publishing combine (which foundered when the industry was hit by the Comics Code censorship controversy and a sales downturn that hit many creators very, very hard)…

Delivered in stark and  stunning monochrome, the on-target tales start with ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (by scripter Dave Wood and Jack, with wife Roz Kirby inking) wherein heroic masked archers from many nations attended a conference in Star City, unaware that a fugitive criminal is lurking within their midst, whilst that same month George Papp illustrated the anonymously scripted ‘Green Arrow vs Red Dart’ in World’s Finest Comics #95: a dashing tale of the Ace Archer’s potential criminal counterpart and his inevitable downfall.

Adventure #251 took a welcome turn to fantastic science fiction as Ed Herron & the Kirbys resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein GA and Speedy take possession of high-tech trick shafts from 3000AD, whilst WFC #96 (writer unknown) reveals ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration.

A rare continued case spanned Adventure’s #252 and 253 as Wood, Jack & Roz expose ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’, before the Amazing Archers temporarily become ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic otherworlds. Back to Earth, it’s followed in WF #97 with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was going from strength to strength and Adventure #254’s ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’, written by Wood, is a particularly fine example as the Bold Bowmen crash into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer, before the next issue sees them battle a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended’ (also scripted by Wood).

World’s Finest #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’, wherein a practical joke causes the pair to expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

In those heady days, origins weren’t as important as imaginative situations, storytelling and just plain getting on with it, so co-creators Weisinger & Papp never bothered to provide one, leaving later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale before devoting all his energies to his fabulous but doomed newspaper strip Sky Masters) to fill in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ just as the Silver Age superhero revival hit its stride in Adventure Comics#256 (January 1959).

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow simply to survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and secret purpose…

Adventure #257’s ‘The Arrows That Failed’ finds a criminal mastermind tampering with the archer’s equipment in a low-key but intriguing yarn by an unknown scripter, most memorable for being the first artistic outing for Golden Age great Lee Elias. He would become the character’s sole illustrator until its demise following Kirby’s spectacular swan-song in WF #99. ‘Crimes Under Glass’ was written by Robert Bernstein and found GA and Speedy battling cunning criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments.

Adventure Comics #258 (March 1959) offered a rare cover appearance for the Emerald Archer since he guest-starred in lead feature ‘Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow’ (by Jerry Coleman & Papp), after which inspiring boyhood on-the-job training the mature bowman then schooled a lost patrol of soldiers in toxophily (that’s posh talk for archery, folks), desert survival and crime-busting in ‘The Arrow Platoon’: another anonymously scripted yarn limned by Elias.

The same month in WF #100 the Emerald Avenger faced light-hearted lampoonery and sinister larcenists in ‘The Case of the Green Error Clown’ by Herron and the now-firmly entrenched Elias, whilst Adventure #259 showed that ‘The Green Arrow’s Mystery Pupil’ had ulterior and sinister motives for his studies whilst #260 revealed ‘Green Arrow’s New Partner’ to be only a passing worry for Speedy in a clever drama by Bernstein.

World’s Finest #101 introduced a crook who bought or stole outlandish ideas for malevolent purposes in ‘The Battle of the Useless Inventions’ (Herron), whereas Adventure #261 and the uncredited fable ‘The Curse of the Wizard’s Arrow!’employs bad luck and spurious sorcery to test the Archers’ ingenuity.

WF #102 provided Herron’s snazzy crime-caper ‘The Case of the Camouflage King!’ whilst in Adventure #262 ‘The World’s Worst Archer!’ (Bernstein) finally gives Boy Bowman Speedy an origin of his own; detailing just how close part-Native American boy Roy Harper came to not being adopted by Oliver Queen. Next month #263 boasted ‘Have Arrow – Will Travel’ (Bernstein) showing the independent lad selling his skills to buy a boat… a solid lesson in enterprise, thrift and good parenting, if not reference-checking….

World’s Finest #103 offered Bob Haney mystery-thriller ‘Challenge of the Phantom Bandit’ after which an anonymous scripter finally bows to the obvious and dispatches the Emerald Archer to feudal Sherwood Forest in ‘The Green Arrow Robin Hood’ (Adventure #264, September 1959) before WF #104 sees GA undercover on a modern Native American Reservation in Herron & Elias’ ‘Alias Chief Magic Bow’.

‘The Amateur Arrows!’ (by Bernstein from Adventure #265) has the Battling Bowmen act as Summer Camp tutors on a perilously perfidious Dude Ranch for kids, #266 again sees their trick-shot kit malfunction in a clever conundrum with a surprise mystery guest-star in Bernstein’s ‘The Case of the Vanished Arrows!’ and WF #105 introduces deceptively deadly toy-making terror ‘The Mighty Mr. Miniature’ (Herron).

In Adventure Comics #267 the editors tried another novel experiment in closer continuity. At this time the title starred Superboy with two back-up features following. The first of these starred equally perennial B-list survivor Aquaman who in ‘The Manhunt on Land’ (not included) discovers villainous Shark Norton has traded territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard. In a rare crossover, both parts of which were written by Bernstein, the heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his impressively innovative strip ‘The Underwater Archers’

‘The Crimes of the Pneumatic Man’ (Herron, WF #106) debuts a rather daft balloon-based bandit, whilst Adventure#268 covers another time-trip in ‘The Green Arrow in King Arthur’s Court!’ by Bernstein. He also scripted February 1960’s #269 wherein ‘The Comic Book Archer!’ sees the pair aid a cartoonist in need of inspiration and salvation.

That was the hero’s last appearance in Adventure. From then on the Amazing Archers’ only home was World’s Finest Comics, beginning a lengthy and enthralling run from Herron & Elias spanning #107-112 and  systematically defeating ‘The Menace of the Mole Men’ – who weren’t what they seemed – and ‘The Creature from the Crater’ – which also wasn’t – before becoming ‘Prisoners of the Giant Bubble’: a clever crime caper loaded with action.

WF #110 introduced photonic pillage ‘The Sinister Spectrum Man’ with a far more memorable menace challenging the heroes in ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ before a lucky felon stumbles upon their hidden lair and becomes ‘The Spy in the Arrow-Cave’: a tale which starts weakly but ends on a powerfully poignant high note…

In WF #113 the painfully parochial and patronising tone of the times seeped into the saga of ‘The Amazing Miss Arrowette’ (scripted by Wood) as a hopeful, ambitious Ladies’ Archery competitor tries her very best to become Green Arrow’s main helpmeet. Moreover, in a series famed for absurd gimmick shafts, nothing ever came close to surpassing the Hair-Pin, Needle-and-Thread, Powder-Puff or Lotion Arrows in Bonnie King’s fetching and stylish little quiver…

The times were changing in other aspects however, and fantasy elements were again popular at the end of 1960, as evidenced by Herron’s teaser in WF #114. ‘Green Arrow’s Alien Ally’ neatly segued into ‘The Mighty Arrow Army’ as the Ace Archers battle a South American dictator and then encounter a sharp-shooting circus chimp in #116’s ‘The Ape Archer’.

A big jump to the majors occurred in Justice League of America #4 (April 1961) when Green Arrow is invited to join the world’s Greatest Super-Heroes just in time to save them all – and the Earth for good measure in Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs’ epic sci fi extravaganza ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’.

The Emerald Bowman returned to quirkiness and mere crime-crushing in WF #117’s‘The Cartoon Archer’ (Wood & Elias) wherein a kidnapped cartoonist uses caricature as a deadly weapon and desperate plea for help…

World’s Finest #118 featured ‘The Return of Miss Arrowette’ (Wood): far less cringeworthy than her debut but still managing to make the Bow Babe both competent and imbecilic at the same time, before Herron penned ‘The Man with the Magic Bow’ in #119, with an actual sorcerous antique falling into the greedy hands of a career criminal, after which Oliver Queen and Roy Harper become victims of ‘The Deadly Trophy Hunt’ in #120 and need a little Arrow action to save the day and their secret identities.

Master scribe John Broome provides a tautly impressive tale of despair and redemption in #121 with ‘The Cop Who Lost his Nerve’ and WF #122 sees ‘The Booby-Trap Bandits’ (Haney) almost destroy our heroes in a tense suspense thriller, whilst Wood wrote one of his very best GA yarns in #123’s ‘The Man Who Foretold Disaster’.

Herron rose to the challenge in WF #124-125 with a brace of bold and grittily terse mini-epics beginning with breathtaking gang-busting yarn ‘The Case of the Crime Specialists’; following up with tense human drama ‘The Man Who Defied Death’ as a doting dad puts his life on the line to pay his son’s medical bills…

‘Dupe of the Decoy Bandits’ by Wood in #126 is another sharp game of cops-&-robbers and George Kashdan reveals the heart-warming identity of ‘Green Arrow’s Secret Partner’ in #127 after which Wood successfully tries his hand at human-scaled melodrama with a retiring cop proving himself ‘The Too-Old Hero’ in #128.

Oddly – perhaps typically – just as the quality of Green Arrow’s adventures steadily improved, his days as a solo star were finally ending. Herron scripted all but one of the remaining year’s World’s Finest exploits, beginning with #129’s robotic renegade ‘The Iron Archer’, after which an author unknown contributed ‘The Human Sharks’ as the heroes returned to battling crime beneath the seas.

A despondent boy is boosted out of a dire depression by joining his idols in #131’s ‘A Cure for Billy Jones’ whilst ‘The Green Arrow Dummy’ is an identity-saver and unexpected crook catcher in its own right.

Subterranean thugs accidentally invade and become ‘The Thing in the Arrowcave’ in #133, before ‘The Mystery of the Missing Inventors’ sees a final appearance and decent treatment of Arrowette, but the writing was on the wall. Green Arrow became an alternating feature and didn’t work again until WF #136 and the exotic mystery of ‘The Magician Boss of the Incas’ (September 1963).

A month later Brave and the Bold #50 saw the Ace Archer team-up in a book-length romp with the Martian Manhunter. ‘Wanted – the Capsule Master!’ pits the newly-minted Green Team in a furious foray against marauding extraterrestrial menace Vulkor; a fast-paced thriller by Haney & George Roussos followed by WF #138’s ‘The Secret Face of Funny-Arrow!’ wherein a formerly positive and good natured spoof-performer takes a sudden turn into darker and nastier “jokes” whilst World’s Finest #140 (March 1964) aptly presents ‘The Land of No Return’ by Bill Finger, with the Battling Bowmen falling into a time-locked limbo where heroes from history perpetually strive against deadly beasts and monsters…

The decades-long careers ended there and they became nothing more than bit-players in JLA and Teen Titans exploits until Brave and the Bold #71 (April-May 1967, by Haney and drawn by his Golden Age co-creator George Papp), wherein Green Arrow helps Batman survive ‘The Wrath of the Thunderbird!’: crushing a criminal entrepreneur determined to take over the wealth and resources of the Kijowa Indian Nation.

This volume ends with the first cathartic and thoroughly modern re-imagining of the character, paving the way for the rebellious, riotous, passionately socially-aware avenger of modern times.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run of team-ups in that title’s prestigious history and certainly the best yarn in this collection. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne becomes a stand-in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer gets a radical make-over, making him a fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation – and every one since.

Ranging from calamitously repetitive and formulaic – but in a very good and entertaining way – to moments of sublime wonder and excitement, this is genuine mixed bag of Fights ‘n’ Tights swashbuckling with something for everyone and certainly bound to annoy as much as delight. All ages superhero action that’s unmissable. Even if you won’t love it all you’ll hate yourself for missing this spot-on selection.
© 1958-1964, 1967, 1969, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.